The power of negative thinking

To be happy, you just need to decide to be happy. Visualise success and you will succeed. “Proud curmudgeon” Oliver Burkeman disagrees.

Try not to think of a polar bear, and you will think of it- the same with failure. We can’t control thought through willpower.

People who have had nothing to drink, and salty snacks, were imagining quenching their thirst. Imagining it paradoxically reduced energy and motivation- it felt the same as achieving it. Those positivity affirmations may backfire, and feel as good as getting Success might. People relax, and their blood pressure decreases. Dieters fantasising about losing weight lost less.

Fear, anxiety, disgust all have value for us. We face risks. The drunk driver thinking “I am a good driver, I will get home safe” may lead to disaster. Whether a thought is positive or negative is less relevant than will it work for my good?

Accepting all emotions is liberating.

Though- one who focuses on how to accomplish a task, rather than minor risks, will perform more efficiently. An athlete should envisage doing the somersault. Worry does little good. And- as a lawyer, I have to construct the case against me to find how to refute it. What is the evidence on any particular point? A safety officer on an oil rig, with all that flammable material, needs to imagine everything that might go wrong, in order to prevent it. His term was “chronic unease”- but he is dealing with serious risks. “Don’t worry about a problem- worry at it” said Ian Fleming.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT, does not judge thoughts as positive or negative but on whether it promotes effective behaviour. You have to be able to judge whether a risk is serious. Self-doubt improves performance, as it promotes thinking about ways to improve- if you also have self-compassion, and can value where you are.

Eliminate false hope. Mr Trump will not take the action the environment needs. Hope can make us bear unbearable situations, but blind us to possibilities. Hope works when we have no agency. Abandon hope, and do what you see may be done. When fortune is kind, the soul should fortify herself against its violence.

People after great life changes after a period of adjustment have the same level of happiness as before- the lottery winner gets pleasure from volunteering, and the paraplegic after a catastrophe gets pleasure as before. It is called “hedonic adaptation”- change has an effect, then we get used to it. Happiness is useful data: it may help you work out what can make you happy, so you can pursue that.

Buddhists say happiness does not depend on external circumstances, but on accepting things as they are- including what real chances there are of changing them. Everything is impermanent. Getting what you want may make you unhappy, if you imagine you desire something because the culture tells you you should. Change your relationship to thoughts and emotions generated by experience- do not resist them or dwell on them.

From The Power of Negative Thinking, radio 4.

Negative and positive

I moved this morning (Thursday) from negative to positive and I would love to know how.

I have a job interview coming up. I was thinking how much I hated interviews, how much effort it would be, how desolate I would feel after having been rejected again (of which I was certain) and how I dreaded it. I was thinking I will see her, which will give me perplexity and yearning, dissatisfaction, alienation and a sense of groundlessness. And other stuff, which makes me fear, or judge myself as wanting.

Liz came over as arranged, and we went out for tea and cake. I frightened her on Sunday with that outburst at meeting: my distress, and the effect it has on all of us. We shared our fears at meeting. One of us, his family has given an inspiring gift to the world, and he fears that when he is gone it will become less. It is a wonderful example and it might cease to be so. How can it be protected in all its beauty? Another fears for his daughter, beyond contact through facebook or telephone- yes, even in 2016.

And I fear for myself. My income is OK at the moment, and might just cease. There is little I can do about this, apart from look for work- see above. So. Afterword. I said the verse that plagues me- From the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken from them. Sue spoke of her fears for refugees and war zones, and I interrupted: “And I fear for myself”.

On Tuesday Gill say in our meeting room and observed that prayer hallows a place. This place is hallowed. It feels different from the other room, though the path through the garden by the gravestones is lovely, and the movement into the Real World starts at our gate.

Onywye. K came and held me and I let myself be held and after some consoling words she said that I should not use “the fuck word”. Yes. And today Liz said she was driven to think of when she had been a primary school teacher, and how if certain children could not stand it they could say their safe word and go somewhere that she could hear them. Would I like that? Rather than the expression of distress in the Meeting room.

In Oldham CAB I saw a couple. The woman had been on the sick and claimed income support. The man had run a shop, and made no profit from it. They thought they were entitled to IS because they had no other income, but they had not been because he had been working more than 24 hours a week. So they had to pay it back. They objected, but the rules were clear, there was nothing I could do, and I told them that- brusquely. All their anger at their situation suddenly focused on me- how dare I be so unhelpful? They wanted to complain about me. Jenny went to double check and explain more circumspectly, and in the corridor Shahzia asked,

“Are you OK?”

And my “No” let out so much under pressure in me it seems, now, that I could never put it back again. “Not in the meeting room”. Well-

And now I just feel different. That meeting, rather than frustration and despair, promises fascination and delight. The interview- meet new people, probably lovely people, show off my good qualities and possibly get an opportunity. Time spent with Liz- tea, cake, conversation- that could be it, or it could be something else.Arcimboldo, Spring

What I want III

I want to be safe. I do not and never have felt safe- this is not simply “because I am trans” and yet being trans has poisoned this, as everything else in my experience. I want to feel safe in the short term: medium/long term being less immediately important.

We were discussing Maslow’s hierarchy, and in this particular summary they are, Survival (food and water); Being safe; Feeling a sense of love and belonging; Having esteem; Self-actualisation; Knowing and understanding. Working with the homeless, said Eileen, knowing that they are not safe, she sees that they might consider the “higher” needs but only momentarily.

And so I retreat to my living room. This is only safe in the short term, and militates against “a sense of love and belonging” but has been the best I could do, given my false understandings of the world and my contempt for myself, and the way my other attempts at safety have been stripped from me as impossible and illusory. I wanted to fit in and support myself, and I could not.

I only sought work for safety. That is hardly unusual- I wonder how many people get beyond this stage if Maslow’s theory has any truth to it- but the safety I sought was against what will people think? in my particular false way of seeing that. My resentment is overwhelming: I resent being trans, even though I would not exist if I were not: this agglomeration of atoms as cis woman or cis man would be so entirely different from who I am. My rage and terror is greater.

I am not working towards medium or longer term safety because I do not see how: the effort will be too great, the chance of success too small. My old negativity has never gone away.

I get better. My contempt for myself lessens, as I realise its depth and bring it to consciousness. And now my contempt is conscious rather than the all-pervasive natural way things are, I may lessen it and consider my good qualities. Eileen did not understand why I needed to retreat, mentioning gifts including articulacy and intelligence. I can hear that, now. I would have heard it as a judgment- why do you not do something with them?- but not now.

Bringing this to consciousness I might start to consider medium-term safety rather than immediate safety.

Thinking, over the last three years I have been working as hard as I could, might bring me to amazed despair; or the hope that if I understand better I might manage more.

I want to be safe.
This is an entirely reasonable desire.

TItian, Diana and Callisto

Starting again

If I do stuff and nothing happens, what’s the point? I got this wonderfully elegant admission of failure and argument for despair on Kiwifarms, where they laugh at people. Well, indeed. I mess around on my blog, and watch recorded TV. I only don’t fit the “living in my parents’ basement” part of the cliché because my parents are dead, and I am a bit old.

That last job. We thought we would open our doors and people would come rushing in, because they always had: in Oldham I used to arrive at 9am in January in the rain and find people queuing outside for the doors opening at 9.30, in the hopes of not being turned away. We simplified the service we gave drastically to cope with the demand. Yet almost no-one wanted my particular service, and I would sit idle, writing my diary or reading TVTropes on the internet. I did try some marketing and building relationships with potential referral agencies, but to little effect. With a string of failures over six years, I despaired and gave up, and am still given up.

No, I don’t want to apply for that job in Edinburgh. I don’t want to move to where they have not had a Summer and people are in their winter clothes (Frances reports) to take responsibility again. Even though I can see it is a good choice from limited options. I don’t want to go where my family are where I might try to re-establish contact, or might not.

I don’t practise the piano because of the amount of work necessary, and even when I did mistakes crept in. Aged 23 I could play Rhapsody in Blue from memory, and now I make mistakes with Ludovico Einaudi. Well, I have the time to practise, and I don’t.

Dunno. That meeting was good. I don’t quite get the man, whose reserve might be even greater because of my way of letting it all hang out, but at least we are working together.

I cycled thirty miles on Tuesday, in three hours. It is a beautiful circular ride, on country roads mostly with very little traffic, and rolling rather than hilly, though some of the inclines are a bit tough for me. It is the furthest I have cycled this century, in a day. I maintain fitness and increase my ability to get about.

I notice small, incremental achievements caused by my action. I am completely lacking in confidence: my first question is always “How am I wrong, here?” which when in balance may make me usefully flexible and now puts me in a funk.  Notice all the achievements. Notice all the positives.

Monet, En Norvégienne. La barque à Giverny

Mustn’t grumble II

-it could be worse.

Today, I have saved myself £8.49 by reading my water meter. The water company sent a plumber round to see if I could save water, who put a mechanism in the cistern so I could use less water flushing and gave me a smaller washing up bowl. I have used thirty m3 of water in just under seven months, that is 30,000 litres or 150 litres a day: I don’t fancy carrying it five miles on my head. That is about low/ average in the UK, about 77p a day. The charges went up 10% on 1 April.

I cycled 25 miles on Tuesday, including two on minor roads which turned out to be stony and unmetalled- silent, beautiful trees, but boneshaking and unpleasant. It took about two hours and forty minutes- so I cycled not quite the distance of a marathon in more than the time top athletes would run one. I could not find the “historic church”- has the sign been turned round? I thought of cycling a similar distance this afternoon but did not get round to it.

I don’t want to be a glass half full person! I want to be a glass overflowing person!

I typed some emails about Quakers this morning. Yesterday, I did one about the knotty problem of arrangements for business meetings next year. It is knotty because there are underlying issues. This actually took much of the morning, though perhaps it could have been done in less time had I had less. I spend a lot of time thinking about clerking.

I had a nap in the afternoon. Yes, yes, small children and old people, but-

He called me a “Cross-dresser”! What? Well, cross, certainly-

I watched two episodes of Person of Interest, which has only got to season 3 in the UK. It is reassuring to have clear goodies and baddies, and the mindless violence is quite fun, and the political message- the baddie was a corporate bigwig, making lots of money- fits my politics.

Should I apply for that job? It is a move of 300 miles north, for a contract lasting six months. I would be a professional tranny- campaigning, training and lobbying about hate crime against the trans community. It might shake me out of my rut, and given that a trans woman would be good for the role they might be more likely to look more favourably on my work history.

That can make me miserable. But that is no reason to stop it- I am, after all, angry and miserable most of the time… H does not have cancer, and having worried so much about seeing the consultant does not feel much better now.

I read a bit.

One of my first questions in any situation is, how am I wrong? I don’t despise myself as much as I did; I am still dissatisfied. I can’t see a way to improve my life, particularly, and have less fear than I had that it could get much much worse.

I have been coughing for about four weeks. It sounds dreadful, but I don’t feel otherwise debilitated. I took off the UK Biobank activity monitor. For a week, it has monitored the duration frequency and intensity of all my activity, not just exercise as I had thought, by measuring speed of movement in three dimensions. I wore it out of some desire to do something useful, and now from my movements they will know that I sometimes do not shower until the afternoon. Though I have not yet sent it back…

Human givens.

Delacroix, The Winter - Juno Beseeches Aeolus to Destroy Ulysses' Fleet

Internally focused

I said I was internally focused, and explained that. “How wonderful!” said Bella, which surprised me, as I had seen it as a handicap. Yet-

My attention is focused on my internal experience rather than external experience. I read of phenomenology, the idea that my experience is not of that chair in my kitchen, itself, but of my own perceptions mixed with my understanding of chairs and that chair, but this is one stage further: I am always more concerned with my own feelings and internal responses than with what I perceive to be external to me. So seeing an argument, I would be more concerned with my own fear, and how I was expressing it, than with what the participants were saying.

I experienced this as oppression, as self-slavery. I would notice my fear, and fear it. I would endeavour not to let it show, but really deny to myself that it was showing rather than successfully prevent it showing. My desire was about preserving a comfortable emotional state rather than creating external reality. This makes me timid and retiring even though my feelings would make me extrovert, boisterous and assertive. Yes, really!

Yet what could it mean to see this positively? Part of my awareness is on my internal reactions. As I come to accept my own feelings, and fight them less, being aware of them is a benefit. I practised this in the supermarket yesterday. What am I feeling, now? The ground note is happiness: that was a really good weekend. Feelings do not stop me noticing what is external to me, unless I desire to manage them rather than accept them.

(Line from Humans on Channel 4- “What is it like to be a teenage girl?” –Frightening, confusing- like my emotions are too big. Well, yeah. We learn better ways of being.)

By the trolleys, a woman asked if I had two pound coins, so she could release one. I had, and gave her two pound coins for one £2 coin. She was delighted: “Thank you so much! That is your good deed for the day.” Whereas, I thought it a small thing to do, and was pleased to help, and pleased to have the friendly contact with a stranger. You do too, don’t you? Doesn’t everyone get pleasure from such things?

Outside the tube station, on the tube, at St Pancras, the mood is relaxed in the sun on Sunday. Others wear dresses besides me. D says, it is strange to come back into London after that weekend. I think of returning from retreat before, like lowering myself into a bath of cold sewage, moving from that relaxed and authentic space back to the stress and tension of “the Real World” which is actually greater illusion. I did not feel like that. I felt, this is my world, where I can be who I am- just like on retreat. Though when I explained that, I worried that I had shut him down.

Berthe Morisot, Paule Gobillard en robe de bal

Cycling at night

The light is beautiful. The last light in the north-east sky, fifty minutes after sunset; the ethereal reflection of my headlight on my racing handlebars. That cyclist has a very bright headlamp. Once I turn off the main road out of the town onto the country road through Candleford (nothing to do with Flora Thompson) there are very few cars: fewer than twenty in nine miles, in either direction. The air is balmy- in shorts and t shirt I overheat.

I take it slowly and carefully. The second glass of wine has a cost, as I did not judge the curve on that roundabout well. I know the road, but not quite well enough.

The light which dapples through the trees in sunshine is beautiful, and now the trees make it quite dark. And the light of those two cars’ headlights glares into my eyes, so I could hardly see. I slowed down, pulled into the side, and stared at the grass verge passing to keep in the right place on the road.

I was not scared but reasonably apprehensive of this. I have only cycled at night once before, last century.

Having done it with only slight winds in such warm weather, I might do it later in the year. This is the step I can take, now, towards freedom. I have said I was doing teenage, and never more than now, using the bicycle more so I can get out of the house. I can go out in the evening if I can get home afterwards.

(I didn’t like it. It scared me. The unspoken Truth, the Truth you dare not state-

Different voices in me. One resists. It is all too much. I do not like it. I feel a reasonable response is, it is bearable. It has its pleasures. I am not that Other Person, and freed from that expectation in me I can become a more powerful person than I experience myself, now. What is possible ceases to be merely ridiculous and poor and repellent. It is the step forward which is available.

I want to be in that other place, but this is the step forward I can take, so I take it.

Positive thinking! The experience had beauty, though it was not merely and entirely pleasant. It achieved something I wanted, and holds forth the prospect of achieving more later. Only positive thinking lets me move forward.

Turner, Fishermen at Sea

Positive or negative

How I see my life is a choice.

Negative: I have always felt out of control, blown about by winds, forced into decisions, uncomfortable in my feelings and the demands of the toxic world until I have hidden away, and I have no idea what to do now.

Positive: I have always done my best to advance my own interests, and acted in love courage and hope as best I may. I have retreated in order to heal, and now I have greater self-knowledge than ever before I may seek out what I want in my heart, and take steps to achieve it. I have always been surrounded by love and beauty.

I trained as a lawyer: I could put arguments for both, but one is from a place of fear and resistance, the other from love and acceptance. I feel the second is more accurate, as well as more useful, more able to encourage me. I face this choice of negativity or positivity.

Sometimes I become negative. After the job interview and the Positively Trans workshop digging up my past, I got a little down, and I could not see something particularly positive in my life, it was obscured by something apparently negative. So I acted in fear, and did less well than I would have done, acting in love.

I hope to notice when I am negative, and talk myself out of it. It behoves me to seek the positive.

As I looked into Liz’s eye, I could see the sky reflected in her iris, and her eyelashes- yes, they are definitely eyelashes- reflected shadow in this patch of light. Everything is beautiful.

I have had repeated calls for a Mr Hutchinson from a company, and cannot persuade them that he does not live here or not to phone. So:

Mr Hutchinson?
-I’m phoning about the Government’s Solar Scheme. Would you answer a few questions?
Are you the homeowner?
What kind of house do you live in, sir?
-A castle with a moat.
How do you heat your castle, sir?
And is the castle listed in a conservation area?
-No, we only put it up last year.
I think I’ll end the call now, sir.

A moat? Well, it had been raining a lot that day.

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy detail

Kathryn came to Meeting the second time when I chose to read Advices and Queries 27, my favourite:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

She liked it, and the joyous, dramatic way I read it. We talked deeply, and my status as a recluse is relevant to her life, as she faces momentous choices. I don’t want anything from her: I mean, it would be nice if she became wildly enthusiastic and in twenty years was clerk and elder, but only if that is right for her. I thought of it as a synchronicity, a series of delightful accidents leading to that encounter, but this does not need to have been God’s Plan: accidents will do.

The ground bass of my emotion is sadness at lost opportunity and missed experience, my sense of my wasted life- better than anger and resentment, perhaps- and perplexity: always, what shall I do now? Perhaps Nothing, as a positive choice. Meditate, contemplate, relax my chronic stress. If I could change that to appreciation, for

this is all there is, and it is beautiful…

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy detail

Positively Clare

I have always faced the world with Courage, Love and Hope.

My mother said I was a good baby, quiet, giving little trouble, liking to be left under the trees to watch the light through the leaves. In delight she told of me singing to her. My beautiful self, soft, gentle, feminine, submissive yet playful and dramatic, was never accepted by her. She had me without wanting me, because it was the conventional thing, and was beset by fightings and fears, within, without. So she looked after my physical needs, and I looked after her hurts, curbing those parts of me which disturbed her, being the “good” child she wanted. She controlled me completely, making all my clothes- knitting socks and pullovers, cutting and sewing shorts. I supported her, caring heroically.

So my persona aged around 20 felt controlled. Others observed me as The Professor, pedantically explaining, or easily hurt, or sweet, which I recognise now, but I was unconscious of my feelings- and that was strong and beautiful, the best way I had found to cope with strong and difficult feelings. In my first job as a solicitor I found my delight in doing something useful and creative, my stubbornness, pushing on to my goals, and a love of country dancing.

I could not suppress all feeling. I bought and purged women’s clothes compulsively, so sought aversion therapy to control this.

In February 1999 I was born again, discovering my true self free and relating for the first time, and it felt like being someone entirely different. I recorded it in this verse, which frightened me at the time and which I now love: my poetry has been a way into my unconscious, and sometimes my conscious self has caught it up, understanding only later. Now, I am being that self more and more, and it feels like life made intense.

I decided it was time to rebel against my parents. I realised how I lied to myself to see myself as a good person, and set out to uncover my lies and blind spots, or my protections, my denials of what had been too painful for me to tolerate.

I transitioned in April 2002, and had my operation in February 2004, and gender recognition certificate on 30 January 2006: The above named person is, from the date of issue, of the gender shown. I am proud of my courage and determination in achieving this.

In the years since, I have found my true self and am more and more able to express myself as I am. Increasingly I accept my feelings and am conscious of them as they happen. I release my bonds of shame. I am my beautiful self. Myself I know.

I have always done what I needed to do to protect myself and advance my interests, and my world has been supportive, with beautiful friends. Sometimes it has felt precarious but I have always been warm enough and well fed. Increasingly I care for myself: I tidied my house yesterday and it is pleasanter to live in. I choose to liberate myself.

I have made this post without apology, stating the truth. I am made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. I have responded to my circumstances as best I knew, in creativity and love.

All is well, and all is well, and all manner of thing is well….

Profile picture

And now, I permit myself a little panic:

It has been so difficult and I always saw myself as completely inadequate and blown around by winds and powerless and under Threat and I was going to call it “My Struggle” a bitter allusion to mock and denigrate it and put in joky asides to show I did not really believe it it was an act for a purpose and I am so ashamed and the Granite Statues are all judging me and IT IS TRUE it is true it is true it is true it is